Deciphering AMLO

My friend and colleague Richard Grabman, author of the (sometimes irreverent) Mexfiles (  ) posted his translation of an editorial he read in yesterday’s La Jornada.. The original piece was written by David Brooks (New York) )

Saturday December 1, 2018 – Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be sworn in as President of Mexico. Whether you approve of his politics or not, no one can deny that this is an historic occasion. Richard readily agreed to my request to re-post. And so I give you:

Deciphering AMLO

Shortly before he assumes power, investors, analysts and politicians in the United States have sought to define who and what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be like.  For now, there is no consensus – he remains an enigma.

However, what is most worrying for many regarding bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico is not so much what the new Mexican government will do but the erratic and provocative policy of the Donald Trump regime, which already laid the groundwork for the crisis López Obrador must face.

Media reports here say AMLO is scaring investors (Wall Street Journal), while others offer a more positive outlook for investors, calculating that fears are exaggerated (Bloomberg) while still others are alarmed that a possible “enemy” is of democracy is coming (Financial Times).  All this, along with the usual claim that AMLO is “unpredictable”, “temperamental” and “you-do-not-know-which-version-of him-will-govern” (New York Times).  And still others fall back on the word of the day, the increasingly ambiguous term , “populist “(one headline sought to merge everything and call him “a pragmatic populist “).

Meanwhile, experts and former diplomats (including former ambassadors in Mexico) predict “a difficult path” and possibly even “explosive outbursts” between the two leaders — based on their personalities, or their divergent policies – They offer lists of recommendations of what the new government should do, from economic, energy and security policy, and center on anti-drug cooperation with the United States.

The first crisis:

Almost all indicate that the first bilateral crisis of the new president is already more than announced: asylum seekers in the border. In fact, perhaps as early as 24 hours after AMLO takes office, his chancellor Marcelo Ebrard is scheduled to fly to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to continue to address the issue.

Ebrard had already begun discreet negotiations with Pompeo in Houston a few days ago. News reports reported that an agreement had been reached, but that was denied, and Ebrard insisted that all that exists is a conversation for now on how to deal with the situation.

But Trump’s position does not leave much room. While talks were going on between the Americans and the elected government last week, Trump tweeted that asylum seekers would not be allowed into the United States until a court approves their petitions and that “everyone will remain in Mexico. If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. ”

In part, what is at stake are principals governing the relationship between the incoming Mexican government and the Trump regime.  The US government’s position is that Mexico should be a staging ground in the process of evaluating asylum requests, something that can last for months and even years.

According to José Pertierra, an expert lawyer in migration and asylum in Washington, what Trump asks is nothing less than that “Mexico become an accomplice in violating the international law on refugees” and violating the United States’ own asylum laws. that establish that anyone has the right to enter US territory to request it.

“What Trump is doing is dismantling the entire asylum system,” by increasingly restricting entry into the country and, with his former attorney Jeff Sessions, reducing  reasons for granting asylum until they are almost non-existent — for example, nullifying claims for asylum based on domestic violence, or gender violence, or criminal violence as he  explained in an interview with La Jornada.

“But for this to work, he (Trump) needs Mexico to accept and house all those people in its own territory, where the applicants do not know anyone or have access to the support infrastructure on the US side. Many come [to the United States] because they know someone here, “he explained. Therefore, Pertierra reiterated, Mexico is in danger of being subordinated to Trump’s anti-immigrant strategy.

In the coming days, the first impressions and reactions will spring up about the new president in the neighbouring country, including among the Mexicans and Latin Americans living in the United States who await AMLO’s response to the persecution they suffer from this regime and its allies.


Reflections after visiting Colombia

Colombian artist, Fernando Botero used this self-absorbed figure to represent the powerful elite who caused such violence in his country


As I write this post, Jorge and I riding the ADO Platino bus from Cancun to Merida. We are more comfortable than we would be on a plane – we have wide, fully-reclining seats, snacks and drinks, free movies, WIFI – and AC. Bus travel has come a long way, Baby.

Over the past 10 days, we’ve been visiting three cities in Colombia – Bogota, Cartagena and Barranquilla – we’ve had a variety of new experiences, excellent traveling companions and we also talked with Colombian people we met. By my yardstick, it doesn’t get much better than this. I feel grateful that Jorge and I could make this trip. Recently I read on facebook:

There are lots of wonderful books found in libraries, but the most interesting stories are found between the covers of your passport.

I could not agree more – and one more thing – travelling widens a person’s perspective. It makes us think. What an important activity this is, because nowadays, there is much that requires careful thought and the forming of judicious opinion.

While in Colombia, many told us how much they love Mexico’s music, food, TV productions (especially “Chavo del Ocho” and telenovelas). They say they’d love to see the Maya ruins and laze on the beaches of Cancun. They seem to admire so much about our country.

But they also expressed distress about the current situation we face. Big change is taking place and the Colombian news channels point out that many Mexicans are not rising to the occasion. It seems we feel afraid of losing what little we have left of our former status as the, “Paradise of Latin America”.

Colombians have more than a little experience with this. Ten years ago they had to overcome many of the same problems we are now grappling with, and they also faced others that we do not have. At great risk, they voted in new leadership and while the results are not altogether to their liking, the situation for most Colombians is much better than it was a decade ago.

On July 1st of this year, Mexico also voted for new leadership, and now that Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador is poised to don the tri-colour presidential sash, the traditional media is making a last-minute pitch to weaken AMLO’s base of support.  This a typical move by the desperate “old boys’ club”; they use fear to get their way.

They say AMLO is risking our finances and future with his harebrained schemes like building a train through south-eastern Mexico (a promise made, but not carried through, by both PAN and PRI during past electoral campaigns). Our president-elect insists on scrapping construction of a new airport (that stands on sinking land owned by politicians and their cronies). He wants to build more oil refineries (most of the existing ones were constructed in the 1960s, or earlier). He wants to cut legislator’s salaries and the number of civil servants (anyone who has tried to get a permit or other document issued knows how inefficient the system is) He has already started selling off private presidential planes (more luxurious and expensive than those owned by the USA). And he plans to restructure Mexico’s centralist government (again, consider the current state of inefficiency). The powers-that-be want us to excuse the excesses of the political / business / religious leaders.

Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t. My time in Colombia was short, but it was long enough to strengthen my belief that change is a necessary and positive force.  Of course it must be responsible and I agree that some (not all) of AMLO’s proposals are “a bit out there”. But if his government can achieve even a quarter of what he wants to change, I feel our country will be a much fairer and more productive one at the end of his 6 year term than it is now.

Convincing readers to seriously consider our opinions is what writers aspire to. And like most of my colleagues, I am not always confident of my own abilities and skills. But I am not one to shy away from expressing (as best I can) what I believe to be true.  I know that change is scary, but I also feel we cannot continue as we are, and Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador is our best hope.


Jorge and I arrived in Cartegena two nights ago.

Because of the tropical climate, beautifully maintained Spanish-colonial arquitecture,  colorful gardens, delicious seafood, and a well-developed tourism infrastructure – Cartagena is one of the most popular destinations in Colombia – and indeed in all of South America.

After five days of wearing bulky cold-weather clothing, we happily slipped into our cooler cotton clothes, and soon felt the familiar sheen of sweat on our skin. I didn’t need a mirror to tell me that my bouncy Bogota hairstyle had wilted. I quickly put on my wide brimmed hat – a practical way to save time on hair maintenance – and avoid more sun damage to my skin.

A few minutes of walking around town made me wonder about other differences between this port city and the high-altitude capital of the country. I enjoyed visiting Bogota, but I often sensed tension there. I am used to a visibly-armed police presence, but the graffiti on almost every wall and the sullen student unrest made me feel uneasy.  In Cartagena, I notice that  most of the well-dressed patrons are Latinos or tourists – the servers are predominantly black.

A bit of historical background: In 1533, a Spanish conquistador named Pedro de Heredia took the village of Calamari by force, and founded the city of Cartagena. The “new city” was settled by the conquistadors, and in a relatively short time, it became one of the wealthiest ports in the Americas. One truth left out of the typical narrative for tourists is that this port’s biggest business was slave trade. The native population had been decimated by disease, and a new source of cheap labour was needed. It is estimated that over one million Africans were shipped to Cartagena.

Cartagena was also a major port for shipping the gold that was looted from the Inca Empire and that of the local indigenous Zenú people of the coast. The city was often filled with gold and precious stones and it quickly became a target for pirates in search of booty. The Spanish rulers built an 11 kilometer-long wall that managed to withstand most of the attacks, and in fact Cartagena was never completely under siege as was the case in other wealthy Spanish-American ports.

The British also attacked the city several times in an effort to take it from Spain, yet another painful and bloody episode in the history of colonization. Cartagena declared its independence from Spain in 1811, one of the first cities in Colombia to do so. Finally, in 1821, Simón Bolivar entered the city from the sea and re-named it – La Heroica – the Heroic City.

During this whole time, slavery continued, but many slaves escaped to create free villages, called palenques. In these communities, they could celebrate their African roots and culture. In 1851, Colombia abolished slavery, 14 years before the United States. The only surviving palenque is San Basilio de Palenque. It was the first free city in America dating its foundation to 1713. To this day, the people there speak a unique language, Palenquero, a combination of Spanish and languages from West Central Africa.

Walking along the fortified walls – touring San Felipe, a hill-top castle built by the Spanish – or visiting the Palace of the Inquisition are reminders of the contradicting perspectives and cultures, and Cartagena’s inequality.

Above all others, one sight caused me to contemplate the different “worlds” of Cartegena. I noticed many black women dressed in colourful Colombian dresses, selling fruit and posing for photos.

Did Jorge and I take pictures of these women? Yes – after being asked to do so by many of them – we did. The photo at the top of the post shows two of them modeling their splendid outfits. I suppose they feel that their work is easier than a lot of other jobs, but I felt uncomfortable holding up my phone for the quick photo shoot.  But as always, Jorge was complimentary and generous, bringing out genuine smiles and thanks from both. He can relate to everyone and I am grateful to be making this trip with him.

And we did spend money on another purchase – if you guessed that we bought something “green” – you guessed right. This is my new silver pinky ring – designed by a Columbian jeweller who told me he had lived for several years in Canada.

So yes indeed, cultural melding of many kinds are found in Cartagena.